No onefeels good losing, not a close match, not the opponent played really well today schpiel, and definitely not when losing after a big lead. Lose enough times doubts start moving in and confidence gets shattered. It clouds the mindset and it is difficult to stay positive.
When you're around tennis long enough you get to see and experience all sorts of emotions; the good, the bad; the indifferent. As daunting as losing may sound, dealing with injuries takes it to a different level on the mind game. The management of handling injuries during and after the injury plays a pivotal role in the speed of which the player returns to their level of tennis quickly or dreads on with despair.
If you want to help your star athlete to rebound back quickly from their injury below are some strategies that have been tried and true. Please keep in mind that these strategies do not override the physician's protocol.
Mental work. Research has shown that meditation and visualization can help with performance. More and more players are utilizing these tools as part of their training routine. With free access to youtube and live streaming, replays and live matches are readily available any time. Watching and studying the game is a good learning tool to develop tactics and strategies.
Keep active. One of the common mistakes I see parents do when their star athlete is injured is having them stay at home and "rest" for an extended period of time. And when the athlete finally gets back on the court, it takes several weeks more to get back on track because they haven't done much physically. Depending on the severity of the injury and the healing stage, here are some strategies to stay active. If it's the upper body that is injured, work on the lower body. Build up the endurance on a stationary bike. Swim. Strengthen hip flexors. Do core work, etc, etc. If it's the lower body that is injured, work on the upper body with strength training. Sit in a chair to hit balls like former ATP world #1 ranked Thomas Muster. There are always strategies to keep training. The point is, keep your child active. Because if they don't, they will feel absolutely miserable physically and mentally when returning to the courts.
Stay motivated. Tennis is a great sport but man does it put tremendous demands on the body. There is no point in griping how unlucky to be injured. It is what it is. The best that you can do is to help your star athlete to do all the necessary preparation for a strong return to the courts. Understand this, it's not IF they will get injured, it's WHEN they get injured, what are they going to do to get back? Help your child to stay positive. To stay on track with their goals.
When to return to competition. More often than not players return too early to competition finding themselves having to take more time off. They are anxious to get back quickly because they feel like they're missing out on the points, the ranking, blahblahblah. Here's a checklist to determine when it is safe to return to competition. 1) Is she able to train full out for the entire duration of the training every day for a whole week and pain-free? 2) Is he able to play several practice matches in a row and pain-free? If there is even a hint of pain, don't do it. Resist the temptation to push it through. Take all the time they need. It will turn out to be faster than having relapses.
I know it's hard to watch others competing and gaining points from the sideline but to return to competition even with a slight pain, the injury looms in the mind and it will hinder the confidence capacity. The stress of competition is hard on a healthy body as it is and it's merciless on a vulnerable one. There is always a tournament next week, and the week after, and the week after that. Stay away from the rat race. Best of luck this week. Yours Truly, Patricia
Frozen hands, sweaty palms. Butterflies taking up all the space in the stomach, no room for food. Accelerated heart rate pulsating through the clothing. No, I'm not talking about a teenager falling in love.
Those were my symptoms. Symptoms that I felt every time before my match during the 18 years on the WTA tour. It was facing the unknown situation whereby the outcome has not yet revealed itself and I desperately wish for the outcome to swing my way that triggered them. The anticipation into the future instead of staying at the present.
It is normal to feel anxious before a competition. Competition in itself is not the problem. The symptoms associated with anxiety are not the problem. It's the experience that the child feels during and immediately following their performance on how you behave that dictates their association to competition and anxiety.
Let me explain. With anxieties, performance can suffer if the player can't get settled during the event. While struggling in their match, your kid will look at you or sense you (if they're playing on a further court) for support and encouragement. They are off balance. They are doubting their ability to handle the situation. During that intense moment, what you do and how you behave matter. In fact, it matters a lot. If they see your body language or facial expression of disapproval (shaking of the head, folding of the arms, tight jaw, pacing up and down, etc, etc) they will link your behaviors to their level of play. You become a reflection of their performance. On the contrary is also true, if your body language projects poise and confidence, your superstar will hook on those cues as well.
You see, it's not what you say as much as it is what your body language projects during the most intense moment when your child looks your way. You need to be mindful of what you do in the face of unpredictable situations. You can choose to project positive vibes with poise and calmness or moan and groan on every unforced error and every mishap. Whatever you choose, you can't be negative and positive at the same time. So, choose wisely :-)
It is natural to feel anxious about the things that we want to do very well at. Every child is different. Some have the maturity to tame their anxiety symptoms and settle into their match quickly and others need extra support. You want to be their solution, not become an added problem to their symptoms.
As parents, we do the best that we can to provide for our child and to shield them from harm. We want the best schools for them. We want the best programs for them. We want the best coach for them.
We do absolutely everything we can externally to get our kids ahead. With some parents more aggressive than others mind you. All with the common goal of hoping our child to be successful. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, on our quest to help our kids grow, is it possible that we should demand the same from ourselves? If we are asking them to handle the pressure better, the stress better, should we not be staying calm when they are not playing up to their potential? If we are asking them to play with no fear, should we not show encouragement when they messed up? If we are asking them to be mentally tougher, should we not show them how we prevail from our tough day?
Here are the 3 practical ways to succeed with your child
Share your fears and triumphs to inspire. In our day to day life, we encounter all sorts of challenges. Some we prevailed and others maybe not. It's healthy for kids to hear that their parents have fears too just like them. And how you try to find solutions to solve the issues just like them. They need to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly: your fears; your success; and your failure. They need to hear that you don't have a perfect day every day and you try again the next day. Of course, it goes without saying that the fears we share need to be age appropriate.
Show what classy tennis parent looks like. In the heat of competition, parents get totally immersed in their kid's match. We have all seen parents lost it emotionally screaming at officials, other players, or getting into fist fights. Let that be the other parents. We are our kid's biggest cheerleader and role model. How we carry ourselves make a huge impact on their well being. Being a classy sport parent does not mean soft and mushy. On the contrary, a classy sport parent projects poise and self-confidence. By the way, a classy sport parent is not reserved only for moms. Dads can be as well, think of Roger Federer.
Less is more. No one feels worse than your child after a bad loss. Lectures, especially after poor performances, rarely get registered. Success is not always on the upswing. And losing is not permanent. It's the peaks and valleys that challenges the characters to promote growth. And your child did not purposely torture you by performing poorly. Best to put aside feedbacks for at least 24 hours to defuse strong emotions. Let the coach do the tennis feedback and moms and dads stick with family values and behaviors.
Coaches can only do so much to help our child with their success. At the end of the day, no one loves and cares about our child at the level that we do. So, if we want our child to be all that we hope them to be, it is worth the effort to also transform ourselves so we can succeed along with them. No child left behind. No parents left behind.
Keeping teaching simple doesn't mean without quality, without expectations. In fact, it takes a lot of skills to make teaching look simple, to make it look easy. Just as it takes a lot of skills to make tennis look simple, to make it look easy. The timing, the rhythm, the movement, the poise.
Take Roger Federer for example, doesn't he make tennis look simple? Easy? It takes thousands of hours of practice to master the skills. And thousands of hours to build the mental and physical strengths. The work cannot be skipped. Learning to play with pressure cannot be skipped. There is simply no short cut to success.
Kids playing up in tournaments when they have not mastered their age group is skipping the process to build their mental and emotional strengths. Losing to a younger player might be embarrasing . Yes, I get it! Making a tough match against a much lesser player is hard to watch. Yes, I get it! So is getting our kids to clean their room. We still try :-).
If you want to help your kid to be a better competitor keep the pressure on so they can learn to handle it. Give them the opportunity to build their mental and emotional strength. Keep them in their age division unless they've outperformed it consistently. Even then, tread lightly with playing up.
Competing well is about managing the nerves when feeling the pressure. It's not about bragging rights. Keep the pressure on, moms and dads.
As in every sport at any level and at any age, there are peaks and valleys throughout the year. How we come out the other side victoriously largely depends on the determination to self improve and the perception we give it.
When performers are at their peak, everything seems to flow effortlessly. Smooth and easy. But in the face of mental challenges, everything touched goes to dust. The world looks gloomy. Optimism is out the window. Nothing is enjoyable. And often times, the mental barriers are self-induced.
Take pressure for example. We all know pressure is self-induced. It's a figment of one's imagination. The one pressure that I see often in juniors is when playing against a younger opponent. Somehow, somewhere, the older player goes into this sheer terror in their mind and ends up playing their worst tennis.
I recently had this conversation with a player. Despite having made great strides in her tennis development, she felt a lot of anxieties against her next younger opponent. So, I asked her this question: What is heavier, one pound of bricks or one pound of feathers? Looking at me like I just grew horns on my head, she replied with absolute confidence; bricks. Chuckling, I told her it was equal. It doesn't matter what you put on that scale, one pound is one pound. Her younger opponent has the same opportunity to create one pound of pressure just as she has the opportunity to create one pound of pressure. Therefore, the one pound of pressure is irrelevant. The pressure in itself is irrelevant to her tennis. So, I rephrased my question: who has more pressure now? The one pound of pressure from her younger opponent or the one pound of pressure from her, the older one? With renewed assurance, she played a solid match. Did what she had to do and moved on. Lesson learned.
What amazes me was that this child is super smart academically but the stress of competing against a younger opponent fogged her judgment and inflicted an imaginary problem. While the question I asked her was simple, some time simple is better.
The route to performing well encounters a lot of twists and turns. It is not a linear path. We must be able to personalize each situation as it comes with simplicity. The simpler, the better.
It's time. It's time to start over for you and your tennis superstar. They've worked hard in their preparations during the offseason:
improved on turning defense into offense
learned some playing patterns
understanding the geometry of the court
learned to play points smarter
Your tennis star is feeling great and ready to return to competition with renewed confidence and determination. That is until their stress level is tested. That is where we usually see a big gap between the training and competition level. With stress, lurking in the corner is fear. Fear brings doubt. Doubt attacks confidence.
And when fear imposes itself on the player? Well, you've seen how your child performed under that spell. Yeah, it is tough to watch. I'm not going to lie. Been there myself as a player and as a parent/coach.
The good news is there is one thing that you can do to help your child to put fear in its place. You can help them to connect the dots from their training to competition.
If you consistently hold your child accountable to the things that are within their control, they build the habit of assessing the journey, not just the outcome of a match. Their confidence will not be shaken up by the end result. When they are certain with what they are supposed to achieve, there will be no doubt. When there is nothing to doubt about, fear will be locked away.
As an elite tennis player, you don't really step away from competition for long. But there is something about the beginning of a new year that is exciting and makes us want to reset. To do better. To have a better version of ourselves. Starting from scratch.
With the new year underway, it is as good a time as any to help our kids build some new habits. The habit of saying I CAN. Two simple words yet so powerful that when ingrained in the mind, they can weather the storm with strength and determination to push forward.
So, how long does it take to build a new habit? According to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, on his discovery with his patients after their surgery, it takes a minimum of 21 days. But according to Phillipa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, her team found on average it takes 66 days. And me, I say it takes as long as the individual needs. It's not a race. It's a life serving habit that is worth keeping it for a long time which will need revisiting periodically.
Here are three things to help build the I CAN habit:
1. Be patient. To replace a habit is a lot harder than starting new ones. Start small and be persistent.
2. Don't try to be perfect. If your child slips to old habits once or twice, it's not the end of the world. Get back on track and keep going. Baby steps.
3. Building good habits are a process. It takes work. Hard and deliberate work every day. It's a process, not an event.